June 29, 2021, marked the availability of Synology’s much-anticipated worldwide release of the well-known NAS operating system, DSM 7. Since then, the new OS has been available for anyone to download and upgrade their supported server.
DSM stands for DiskStation Manager, and version 7.0 is the latest. It’s the first and most exciting major upgrade in five years. But just because it’s available doesn’t mean you should upgrade your NAS box right away.
Indeed, while DSM 7 is worth the wait — it’s the latest and much-improved version of arguably the best NAS software — I’d still recommend certain users to wait a bit longer before putting it on their production server.
You’ll find out why and if that applies to your situation when through with this post and more.
Dong’s note: I first published this post as a preview on June 2, 2021, with the release of DSM 7.0 Release Candidate (RC), and last updated it to a hands-on review on July 11 after more than a month of testing.
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Synology DSM 7: An overall major improvement with some surprises
OK, I’m one of those who couldn’t wait to try DSM 7.0 out. And in my up-to-now experience, the new release is a win. It has a host of improvements, most notably in the user experience.
But let’s get one thing out of the way: You won’t see faster network data throughputs with it. So far, I’ve seen no discernible difference in file copying speeds between DSM 7 and DSM 6.
The reason is a server’s network ports generally limit data speeds, and home Synology NAS so far are all Gigabit.
And even then, keep in mind that most NAS servers use regular hard drives with the technical cap speed of SATA 3, 6Gbps.
The point is don’t expect DSM 7 to make data move between your NAS server and network devices faster magically. But still, there is plenty to love about the new OS.
For one, when working with the server itself, you’ll note that the interface is now significantly more responsive. Even the login process is much shorter — it’s almost instantaneous.
This responsiveness is a consistent improvement — you’ll experience it in all servers, no matter the specs or storage types. (OK, if you run a really low-end server, this might not apply.)
On top of that, all changes take less time to apply. And tasks within the server itself have vastly improved all around. What’s more, things are more organized and streamlined — you can get things done via fewer steps.
Specifically, the Control Panel now has fewer items, yet, you can get the settings done more quickly.
Note that things have moved around a little bit.
For example, the Share Folder Sync function — an excellent feature to sync data between two or more servers in real-time — is now part of the File Services instead of its own section. Or QuickConnect is now part of External Access, which also includes DDNS and Router Configuration.
But with the improved search function, you’ll be able to find every setting you need without knowing exactly where it lies.
There’s also much better security support, including:
- The support for two-step authentication where, among the options, you can use a phone app to approve the access via a tap on the screen.
- The QuickConnect remote management feature now automatically gets a free SSL certificate.
The storage management system has been significantly improved with better SSD cache control, faster RAID rebuild. And there are more handy tools for home and business users.
So, overall, DSM 7 looks, feels, and runs better. It proved in my trial to be a lighter-weight operating system across the board. It uses fewer resources for itself than DSM 6.
As a result, it makes managing any supported server, including a low-end one, a real pleasure. The longer you use it, the more you’ll find that DSM 7 makes sense.
But DSM 7.0 is not free of headaches.
Right off the bat, keep in mind that it won’t run everything that works in DSM 6. So if you assumed that you could carry on NASsing (I made up that word) your merry way the same as you have in the past five years, you’d likely be disappointed.
No more ext3 support
And the ditching of ext3 — not to be confused with ext4, which DSM 7 does support — might be the biggest headache of all.
Indeed, DSM 7.0 no longer supports ext3 in favor of the much more advanced Btrfs alternative. And for the most part, that’s a good thing.
One of Btrfs’ many benefits is that it supports Snapshot Replication, a shadow copy method that keeps your data safe from a ransomware attack. So I definitely recommend it. (Hint: Don’t bother with ext4 if Btrfs is an option!)
However, ext3 was once the most popular file system across the Synology servers — and many Linux servers, for that matter.
As a result, many users still use the ext3 file system in their latest Synology boxes after multiple server and storage upgrades. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, they say. Well, it’s broken now.
Indeed, the issue is, a Synology server must run Btrfs (or ext4) before you can upgrade it to DSM 7.0, and migrating from ext3 to Btrfs (or ext4) can be a pain.
That’s because there’s no in-place conversion. Instead, you will need to back up data and settings to a temporary storage device, remove the current ext3 storage pool/volume and rebuild it from scratch. Then restore data and system settings.
Depending on the amount of data you have, migrating to Btrfs can take hours or even days. I speak from experience — since the release of DSM 7 beta, I’ve upgraded a dozen servers or so to Btrfs.
And if you don’t want to take your server offline during the process, the only way is to get an additional server for the task — not a bad idea if you want a backup server anyway.
By the way, some (older) NAS models don’t support Btrfs or ext4 — they won’t get DSM 7 at all.
(Many) third-party apps not (fully) or not yet supported
The power of any Synology NAS server has always been in the apps (or packages). And this is where things get complicated.
Sure, there is a long list of apps immediately supported in DSM 7.0. In fact, if you use only Synology apps, chances are you won’t run into any significant problems.
However, many third-party apps might take time to get (fully) supported. Some are entirely dropped. For example, the popular Plex server, a well-established app within DSM 6, is now in the beta section of DSM 7.
Considering Plex’s popularity, my take is DSM 7 will fully support it soon. But less well-known apps — including those I’m not aware of — might not be that lucky. And again, some sure are no longer supported at all.
Third-party apps and DSM 7 compatibility
The table below, provided by Synology, shows the statuses of popular third-party apps that work with DSM 6.2 and their DSM 7.0 compatibility as of the end of June 2021.
There’s no timeline for when an app will get fully supported, but all on the list will eventually work.
- V : Currently supported by DSM 7.0
- △ : To be supported
|Package Name||Compatibility Status|
|The latest versions of essential platforms and services |
(MariaDB, OAuth Service, PHP, Node.js, Python, Apache, etc.)
|Data Deposit Box Backup||V|
|DiXiM Media Server||V|
|Nakivo Backup and Replication||△|
|Plex Media Server||V|
|sMedio DTCP Move||V|
And there is a long list of apps that won’t work with DSM 7.0.
Apps that are no longer supported
Indeed, if you use any of the following known apps, however, you’re totally out of luck. Here is the list of apps that won’t work with DSM 7.0:
- Synology apps:
- Cloud Station Server (replaced by Synology Drive Server),
- Cloud Station ShareSync (replaced by Synology Drive Server),
- Photo Station (replaced by Synology Photos),
- Moments (replaced by Synology Photos).
- Third-party (dated) packages: Discourse, DokuWiki, Drupal, Drupal8, DVBLink, GitLab, GLPI, Hasplm, Java7, Java8, LimeSurvey, Logitech Media Server, LXQt, Magento, Magento2, MantisBT, Mono, Moodle, Node.js 0.10, Node.js 0.12, Node.js v4, Node.js v6, Node.js v8, Odoo 8, OpenERP 6.1, OpenERP 7.0, OrangeHRM, Orthanc, osCommerce, osTicket, PHP PEAR, phpBB, Piwik, Podcast Generator, PrestaShop, PrestaShop1.7, PythonModule, Redmine, Ruby, Spree, SugarCRM, SVN, Synology File Manager, Syncthing, Tomcat6, Tomcat7, TVMosaic, and Webalizer.
Bye-bye USB dongles
Aside from apps, DSM 7.0 also comes with what I’d call a deal-breaker, for now, for many users: It doesn’t support USB dongles — the things you plug into a server’s USB port.
On this front, Synology told me:
“Unfortunately, we have ended support for USB dongles on our NAS devices. DSM 7.0 is our biggest update yet and required major overhauls of the subsystem and our applications. As such, the drivers that do work in DSM 6.0 are unable to work in DSM 7.0. For the USB devices to work on DSM 7.0, the manufacturers of these devices will have to develop new drivers compatible with DSM 7.0. Those drivers must be tested to ensure there are no potential security risks. So until said manufacturers start rolling out driver updates, USB will be used for external storage as the main use case. “
That means, for the foreseeable future, DSM 7.0 only supports USB external storage use. So if you’re using portable and thumb drives for data sharing and backup purposes, that will work like it always has. The new OS will also support USB connections for uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices.
On the other hand, any other USB add-on devices, such as Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, cellular, speaker, DTV adapters, and so on, will no longer work.
This situation might change at some point, but I’d not count on it. In the future, Synology might produce some of these accessories itself. To a certain extent, with DSM 7.0, Synology seems to reveal its desire to exert more control over its hardware.
So yes, Synology has gotten big. If you’re an Apple user, especially one who drank the cool-aid and upgraded their (older) Macs to Big Sur, you’ll catch my drift.
Synology DSM 7.0: Lists of supported NAS servers
Wondering if you can load DSM 7.0 on your existing server? The answer is highly likely. (Naturally, all new Synology servers will support it.)
The new OS version supports NAS servers as old as those released back in 2013, though not all, and it’s a free upgrade — similar to Windows 10 (or Windows 11, for that matter).
Below is the complete list provided by Synology of existing servers on which you can install DSM 7.0.
(Per Synology’s naming convention, the digits at the end of the model signify the release year.)
- 21-series: RS2821RP+, RS2421RP+, RS2421+, RS1221RP+, RS1221+, DS1821+, and DS1621+.
- 20-series: RS820RP+, RS820+, DS1520+, DS920+, DS720+, DS620slim, DS420+, DS420j, DS220+, DS220j, and DS120j.
- 19-series: RS1219+, RS819, DS2419+II, DS2419+, DS1819+, DS1019+, DS419slim(*), and DS119j.
- 18-series: RS2818RP+, RS2418RP+, RS2418+, RS818RP+, RS818+, DS1618+, DS918+, DS718+, DS418, DS418play, DS418j, DS218+, DS218, DS218play, DS218j, and DS118.
- 17-series: RS217, DS1817+, DS1817, DS1517+, and DS1517.
- 16-series: RS2416RP+, RS2416+, RS816, DS916+, DS716+II, DS716+, DS416, DS416play, DS416slim, DS416j, DS216+II, DS216+, DS216, DS216play, DS216j, DS216se, and DS116.
- 15-series: RS815RP+, RS815+, RS815, DS2415+, DS1815+, DS1515+, DS1515, DS715, DS415+, DS415play, DS215+, DS215j, DS115, and DS115j.
- 14-series: RS2414RP+, RS2414+, RS814RP+, RS814+, RS814, RS214, DS414, DS414slim, DS414j, DS214+, DS214, DS214play, DS214se, and DS114.
- 13-series: DS2413+, DS1813+, DS1513+, DS713+, and DS213j.
(*) The DS419slim is an interesting example of a NAS server that doesn’t support Btrfs but only ext4, as mentioned in my review. It can run DSM 7 but won’t get all the benefits of the new OS.
By the way, just because a server is on the list above doesn’t mean all its features are available. For example, video conversion to FLV and MPEG-4 Part 2 formats is no longer available in many models after upgrading to DSM 7.0.
Synology DSM 7: How to upgrade
With the issues mentioned above out of the way — consider yourself warned! — here’s how you can upgrade to DSM 7 right now.
Go to Synology’s download center, enter your server model. If it’s supported, you’ll find the DSM 7.0 image for it. The official version starts at build number 7.0-41890. Download that image or a later build if available — it’s a .pat file — on your computer.
After that, log into the server’s interface, open the Control Panel and navigate to the Update & Restore section. Choose to do a Manual DSM Update and upload the download .pat file to the server.
The rest is self-explanatory.
By the way, eventually, the server’s existing DSM 6.2 will auto-detect DSM 7 as an update. But in any case, it’s best to upgrade to the official build manually, as mentioned above.
After that, just like DSM 6, you can expect regularly updated builds of DSM 7 going forward.
DSM 7 vs DSM 6.2: Screenshots
Below are some screenshots showing how DSM 7 differs from DSM 6.2 in the user interface. Use the slider on each frame to see the differences.
Should I upgrade now?
For this post, I upgraded a dozen servers from DSM 6.2 to the official version of DSM 7.0 (build 7.0-41890) — including DS1513+, DS1515+, DS1618+, DS1019+, DS713+, DS419slim, DS1520+, and DS1621+ models — and all went well.
It’s important to note that none of those above run any third-party apps. And I do have a few servers that I’ll keep DSM 6 on for the foreseeable future.
The upgrade processes took between 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the server. And that included the time needed to update all existing apps to their latest official builds.
During the upgrade, the server is not available for general use.
When it’s safe to upgrade
That said, if you’re running a beta or RC version of DSM 7.0, you should upgrade to the official build immediately. There’s no reason not to.
Also, if you’re using DSM 6.2 but don’t rely on any third-party apps, you’re probably good to go, too.
Generally, if you run popular apps, chances are you will run into no or negligible problems. But do expect some hiccups.
I’ve noted that some supported apps didn’t function the same way they did with DSM 6 — they might need some time to mature under the new OS.
In terms of performance, if you use a Plus (+) or XS server, chances are you’ll only see improvement — it’s safe to upgrade.
Extra: Some housecleaning before upgrade
A couple of things you should do within DSM 6.2 before performing an upgrade to DSM 7:
- Make backups of your app’s data, especially third-party apps. (You should back up your shared folders, too, but that’s a daily matter that should be done no matter what. In case you’re wondering, your shared folders will be fine after any DSM upgrade.)
- Update the server to its latest DSM 6 build.
- Update all apps to their latest versions.
- Remove all the unused (or no longer supported) apps.
- Migrate all Synology packages (and their clients) to applicable replacements as mentioned above. This is especially important with the case of CloudStation (replaced by Synology Drive.) In my trial, the Synology Drive client software didn’t update itself to the latest version, which can be an issue if you have multiple remote non-savvy users — make sure you update the client to the latest before the DSM 7 upgrade.
- Stop (remove) some services that can be easily re-enabled after the upgrade. Examples include VPN servers, Link Aggregation, any cloud-based backup or sync service, and so on.
- Temporarily stop QuickConnect. If not the upgrade process will disable it anyway — you need to re-enable it for the added SSL certificate to work.
When to hold up
Performance-wise, if you run a server of a lower-tier (J or SE), you might experience performance-related issues — you should wait for at least one or two DSM 7 updates for your server before upgrading.
On top of that, if you’re using DSM 6.2 with many different (third-party) apps, it’s a good idea to hold up the upgrade for a couple of months to make sure your existing apps are fully compatible or find alternatives if they are not.
Generally, it’s best to hold up if you use a server for a mission-critical production role. In this case, don’t assume that everything will work out. While you can make DSM 7 work right now, you might run into unexpected issues, and there’s no help.
That said, if you rely on any of the following, it’s a good idea to wait until next year:
- Any mission critical third-party package. Don’t make assumption that it will work well, if at all.
- iSCSI storage.
- Third-party virtual machine (VMware etc.)
- Third-party streaming server. (Plex will work but you sure will have to do some tweaking.)
- USB dongles of any type (including network adapters.)
It’s essential to keep in mind that once you’ve upgraded to DSM 7, there’s no (easy) way to go back to DSM 6. With Synology servers, upgrading the software has always been a one-way street.
Sure, it is possible to reverse course, but the process is quite involved. It’s much more challenging than upgrading to DSM 7. And in the best-case scenario, you might still need to rebuild many of your DSM 6 NAS box’s settings. I tried.
Synology DiskStation Manager (DSM) 7's Rating
Comprehensive, streamlined, and significantly more responsive user interface
Robust set of features for home and business users
No USB dongles and ext3 support
Some popular features and (third-party) DSM 6-based apps no longer available or (fully) supported
Updated/new apps can be buggy
DSM 7.0 sure is an exciting upgrade that rings in a lot of improvements.
But like all changes, it has a learning curve. Together with it, you might have to say goodbye to apps and even add-on devices that you’ve grown accustomed to for years. And some supported apps still need time to mature fully.
The good news is DSM 7.0 is not a must-upgrade. You can take your time with it. Or even ignore it completely.
That said, spend some time trying it out if you have a spare server — you can use it with a Virtual Machine within many existing NAS models running DSM 6 — or wait and make the migration when you know for sure you’re ready. Patience is a virtue.
One thing is for sure: It’ll be years before you need to ditch altogether DSM 6.2, which itself is still an excellent operating system. Synology will support the old OS for the rest of the existing NAS servers’ life — some of them don’t even support DSM 7.0 at all.